This is my column in today’s Greenville News.  Are we communicating for the right reasons?

https://www.greenvilleonline.com/article/20091116/OPINION/911160302/1016/Ed-Leap-Distracted-by-staying-%E2%80%98in-touch

This is the text.

So anyway, the doctor ordered an X-ray and....

'So anyway, the doctor ordered an X-ray and....'

Try to picture the scene.  The chart says ‘abdominal pain.’  The patient, presumably, was in enough discomfort to come to the emergency room.  My mind goes down the list.  It’s a young woman, so it could be from appendicitis, ovarian cyst, ectopic pregnancy, kidney stone.  I check the vital signs and open the door.  ‘Hi, I’m Doctor Leap!  Tell me about your…’ I’m interrupted by the raised index finger, international sign for ‘just one minute.’  My emergency department patient has her hear pressed against her shiny, red cell-phone, ‘uh-huh, uh-huh, well, tell her I’m at the ER.  Yeah, I’ll call later.  Really?  No, I don’t think…wait, the doctor walked in.  What?  No, I don’t want that for dinner!’  Lucky me, I am privy to a protracted conversation.  If I’m busy, quite frankly, I leave the room and come back later.  How sick can you be when you’re smiling at your phone conversation?

One day I realized we had reached a certain pinnacle of the ridiculous, as an individual from a car wreck was wheeled into a room by EMS, and was simultaneously texting as fast as his fingers could move, his cell-phone held above his immobilized head.  How do you abbreviate, ‘I just rolled my car over a hillside and may be critically injured; is that my pelvis crunching?’

All over the world, people are struggling; not to find ways to communicate, but to keep people from doing it at inopportune times.  Public school teachers confiscate phones.  College professors have to deal with students laughing at YouTube videos in class.  Workers sneak off to check Facebook accounts.  And drivers, tragically, try to send text messages while hurtling down the highway in 3000 pounds of potential death.  ‘Distracted driving’ is now a topic considered in state legislatures around the nation.

Don’t mistake my intention or my point.  I use a cell-phone, though I’m quite illiterate at the language of the text-message.  I even enjoy social media, and use both Facebook and Twitter with regularity.  I have a blog (www.edwinleap.com/blog) which I update several times each week.  All of our electronic communications devices and social media are modalities that will only increase in influence; and which will probably be replaced by better ones in short order.  Technology is like that.  It evolves, it adapts; it is frequently free, and it is marketed and coveted by masses of people with increasing technical savvy.

I guess I’m not really so worried about the constant communicative tendencies of our populace as I am with their underlying motivation.  Why do we check our e-mail multiple times daily?  Why do we hurry to answer cell-phone calls?  Why is it that I can talk to a salesman, who will walk away from me (finger held high for me to, yet again, to ‘wait a minute’) and answer the call or text that just came to his iPhone or Blackberry?

Maybe we’ve become too distanced from other human beings.  The phone, the text, the computer, these offer a bit of communication, but without the engagement and risk of rejection inherent in actual contact.  That can’t be all of it, though.  Our assorted technologies also allow us to find people we have lost, or stay in touch with folks far distant. They can be wonderful tools for connection.

Perhaps we communicate so often, and so desperately, because we’re lonely and afraid.  It seems odd, I suppose.  That we should be afraid of anything, or feel any loneliness whatsoever, when we are connected 24/7 by signals, images, words and sounds.  We should be the least lonely generation in the history of the earth!  Of course loneliness has many causes that are not so easily cured by techniques or tools.  Still, I submit that our telecommunication obsessions may have to do with something other than loneliness, or at least something in addition to it.

My theory is that we are frantically communicating because we now use communication to validate our uncertain worth.  I’ve felt the same thing at times.  No e-mail today?  Was it something I did, something I said?  No responses to a column?  Am I still a good writer?  The fact is, as nice as it is to be contacted, it’s irrelevant to our worth.

Our worth as individuals can never be determined or calculated by the people who do, or don’t, call, text, e-mail or Tweet us during the course of a day…or even a lifetime.  Technology is wonderful; I’m thrilled that we have it.  But we have to fight the tendency to let it define us.

If we would just learn to see ourselves as unconditionally valuable people, treasured and loved by our Creator, maybe we wouldn’t need calls or messages to validate us.

And we wouldn’t need to hold up that ‘wait a minute’ finger so often.

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